Education, Health and Housing: Making Do With Fewer Resources

By Rochelle L. Stanfield, Marilyn Werber Serafini

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT

Clinton wants to go down in history as the Education President, and for the moment anyway, Congress doesn't seem inclined to challenge that ambition. So Education should be a pretty comfortable spot during Clinton's second term. Whether Education Secretary Riley will continue to occupy it, however, remains in doubt.

Clinton is known to have great respect for this fellow former southern governor, and the word around the Washington education community is that the post is Riley's for as long as he wants it.

Riley has been mum about how long that might be. He has mentioned that he's tired of the grind, particularly his heavy travel schedule. Long in frail health, he underwent major surgery during the first term; however, Riley is quick to mention how much he enjoys his post and all the things he still wants to accomplish.

If Riley goes, the potential replacement most prominently mentioned is West Virginia's two-term Democratic Gov. Gaston Caperton, who couldn't run again because of state term limits. Caperton has stressed education reform as a means of lifting up the economy in his poor state, just as Clinton and Riley have done for the country as a whole. Other prospects are Colorado's Democratic Gov. Roy Romer and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, a Republican who is now president of Drew University.

Actually, Clinton's remaining education agenda is rather modest--primarily tax relief to make the first two years of college just about free. His campaign litany included two other objectives: that all 8-year-olds be able to read and all 12-year-olds to log onto the Internet, but neither of those require big bucks or major legislation.

During his first two years, Clinton shepherded sweeping measures to overhaul elementary and secondary education, set up school-to-work systems for high school graduates who don't go to four-year colleges and provide direct government loans for college students. Efforts by the Republican Congress over the past two years to repeal these initiatives or scale them back came to nothing. Indeed, before it left town in September, Congress increased federal education spending for the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1 by $3.5 billion.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES DEPARTMENT

If HHS Secretary Shalala planned to resign any time soon, she'd probably be paying more attention to suitors. During the past two years, Shalala has been approached by the Carnegie Corp. in New York City and by several universities. So far, she's showed little interest.

Shalala, though, hasn't entirely ruled out leaving. ``I haven't thought it through,'' she said in a recent meeting with reporters. Some health care industry analysts, however, say they wouldn't be surprised if she quit sooner rather than later because of her less-than-major roles in formulating the Administration's health care reforms and in responding to this year's welfare reform legislation.

In any event, her department will have a lot to say about how the new welfare reforms--which Shalala wanted the President to reject--are implemented. HHS will monitor state plans to ensure that they comply with federal rules. In addition, her staff is already writing rules and regulations to interpret the new law; it's a process that could result in a moderating of some of the law's effects.

In addition, the Administration is now expected to take the lead on extending the life of medicare's hospital insurance trust fund and in restructuring the program. Without action, the fund will go bankrupt in 2001, according to the Administration's medicare trustees. (Shalala is one of the trustees.)

HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT

If he leaves, HUD Secretary Cisneros might consider taking up cheerleading. He's had a lot of practice recently, traveling the country to describe a dramatic urban comeback, to rave about the President's commitment to the cities and to insist upon the renaissance of his own department.

Though many cities are doing better economically, Cisneros admits that they still have a long way to go before they become model places to live and work. His other enthusiasms require even more of a stretch. Housing and urban issues have been among Clinton's lowest priorities. And most analysts contend that the department remains a bureaucratic mess. And now the agency's inspector general is investigating contracting fraud in a HUD housing program.

Clinton, who seems to like Cisneros, respects his opinions. As a measure of his standing, Cisneros was asked to join the President's informal Wednesday political advisory group. Cisneros is very well regarded in the Hispanic community, which the Democrats have been wooing successfully. And, with the expected departure of Transportation Secretary Pena, Cisneros would be the only Latino holdover in the Cabinet.

If he goes, the major factor would be an ongoing investigation by a special prosecutor into statements Cisneros made to the FBI about payments to a former mistress. Perhaps more important to Cisneros, however, are his mounting legal bills. He might have to return to the private sector just to make enough money to pay them.

Standing in the wings to replace him is his assistant secretary for community planning and development, Andrew M. Cuomo, who is the son of former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, a member-by-marriage of the Kennedy family and a politico in his own right. Also mentioned are several Democratic mayors, including Baltimore's Kurt Schmoke and Seattle's Norman Rice, both African-Americans, and Philadelphia's Edward Rendell.

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